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The Last Airbender: Prequel: Zuko's Story
The Last Airbender: Prequel: Zuko's Story
by Alison Wilgus
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.10
85 used & new from $0.01

18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sweeet., August 13, 2010
This is a seriously charming, if slight, addition to Avatar for fans of the series. In fact, I suspect it's the only product associated with Shyamalan's racist, sexist, and apparently boring and incoherent film which is worth mentioning in the same breath as the excellent original material.

Unfortunately, it *is* tied in to the film, which is one of its substantial drawbacks. The film versions of Zuko and Iroh are actually much less of a distraction than I expected, thanks to Nina Matsumoto's fantastic work with expressions and the fact that the writers largely nail the characters' voices. Uncle Iroh works especially well, while Zuko, though rather generic design-wise, thankfully has a visible scar, and does look amusingly close to his season three self on occasion. On the other hand, the need for firebenders to have an outside source of fire to draw on, also a detail from the film, was more annoying than I'd anticipated: Matsumoto does her best to make it look as organic as possible, but there's always the niggling thought that it's just as well there was a lantern or whatever handy.

The other big problem is the length. The manga is largely a character piece, which is all to the good: the interaction between Zuko and his uncle was one of the great pleasures of the original series, and the creative team here manage to do it justice without slipping into sentimentality - no small feat given the subject matter. As such, though, it thrives on more meditative moments, which are just the kind of thing manga is great at providing. So it's a pity that there wasn't room for, say, a few pages of scene-setting, or of Zuko and Iroh drinking tea or eating together - the sort of thing the tv series got a lot of mileage out of whenever it was able to fit it in. As it is, the manga is really a series of brief vignettes, with not enough pauses for breath in between to properly ground the world and the characters.

Having said that, the world is very much that of the animated series - ironically, given the film's racebending, a lot of the Fire Nation incidental characters look even more specifically Japanese than in the original. Matsumoto's work is great - clear, energetic and unfussy, with a lot of solid blacks. Some of it does feel a bit rushed, but I'll definitely be seeking out her other stuff after this. And Matsumoto does a lot to keep the tone from getting too angst-ridden, as well: she has a great line in Zuko's trademark teenage stomping, and her Iroh is often hilarious.

All this adds up to a slightly odd artifact which certainly doesn't stand on its own, but which works very well as a footnote to the animated series - it's got some nice easter eggs for fans, and it does some particularly interesting work with the great villain Azula. There are also some 'making of' pages padding it out at the back, which are fun: it's especially good to get a look at the script. For a movie tie-in which deals with Zuko at his woobiest, it's a really solid piece, very much better than it needed to be. It's a pity that this creative team didn't get a chance to get to grips with this material without space constraints and the need to fit in with the movie holding them back.

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